Felex Share, Harare Bureau
A NINE-member European Union (EU) election exploratory team led by the bloc’s Head of Democracy and Support Unit, Mr Patrick Costello, arrived in the country yesterday for pre-election assessment ahead of the harmonised elections this year.
The team, the first in the last 16 years, gets down to work today and will be in the country until Friday.
This comes as EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Phillipe Van Damme, yesterday commended President Mnangagwa for opening up the electoral processes to ensure credible, free and fair elections.
President Mnangagwa has pledged to invite international observers, including the EU and United Nations, to monitor the polls as part of his efforts to entrench democracy in the country.
Mr Van Damme said the EU delegation’s business begins today when it is expected to meet Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Sibusiso Moyo and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission officials.
“We have quite an extensive team of nine people coming, five have come from our headquarters (Brussels, Belgium) led by the Head of Division for Electoral Observation Mission Mr Costello and flanked by heads of Southern Africa Division in our headquarters,” he said.
“On top of our internal people, we have also mobilised for external experts precisely to help quantify what will be required to mobilise an Electoral Observation Mission.”
On the delegation’s mission, Mr Van Damme said: “The purpose of the mission this week is precisely to determine whether it will be feasible, useful and advisable to deploy that observation mission.
“Part of the work to be done this week is also to determine if indeed a decision is made to deploy an observer mission, the size of that mission. Business begins tomorrow (today) with a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister and Zec.”
The team is expected to meet various stakeholders, including opposition parties and civic society.
Mr Van Damme said the delegation would come up with a report that will see the EU making a determination on whether or not to send observers for the elections.
“The team coming this week will establish a report which will be transmitted to EU High Representative and Vice President of the Commission Federica Mogherini,” Mr Van Damme said.
“She will then decide whether indeed it is advisable to deploy and if so, what size of the mission.”
Mr Van Damme commended President Mnangagwa for committing to transparent elections.
“We welcome this invitation for not only the EU, but the international community to bring Observer Missions,” Mr Van Damme said.
“The EU team will basically do the same exercise done by the Sadc team last week. I hope all the Missions will come and I understand the African Union (AU) is also planning a Mission, while some other international Missions will come in as well, shortly.”
The last EU official associated with its election observer mission was Mr Pierre Schori, who arrived on a two-week tourist visa in 2002, but was expelled after he made a series of utterances pre-judging the electoral process.
The Sadc Electoral Advisory Council (SEAC) last week met Zec officials, Minister Moyo, MDC Alliance leader Mr Nelson Chamisa, as well as National Assembly Speaker Advocate Jacob Mudenda and Senate President Edna Madzongwe.
The visit is in line with Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing the Conduct of Democratic Elections and fulfils President Mnangagwa’s pledge of free, fair and credible elections.
Election observation is now being done in three stages.
The first stage entails observing the pre-election period, the second is the campaigns and polling, before a final team is sent to assess stability and acceptability after results have been announced.